A SPANISH investor in satellite communication technology has revealed plans to establish a “centre of competence” for specialist antennae in Edinburgh after having received a £2.5million research and development (R&D) grant from Scottish Enterprise.

Celestia Technologies Group (CTG) UK has plans to launch the “holy grail” of antenna that can be used by aircraft to interact with the so-called “mega-constellation” of low to medium orbit satellites expected to be launched into space in coming years.

Currently there are 2,000 operational satellites in orbit, according to the United Nations' Office of Outer Space Affairs. However, there is a multi-billion dollar space race to launch thousands more, led by the likes of Elon Musk’s Space X and online retailer Amazon, which could commence as early as by the end of this year.

CTG aims to develop a light weight and low-cost antenna for aircraft that it believes could be a first in the market, offering improved communications and connectivity performance for both airplanes and satellites alike

José Alonso, founder and chairman of CTG, expects to have a product developed and tested with in the next two and a half years, with further plans to establish advanced manufacturing and maintenance facilities in Scotland. CTG will initially be based at Heriot-Watt University while it identifies permanent premises. The company will create 18 jobs in Scoltand.

CTG, based in Holland, established its UK division at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire in 2017. The group is wholly owned by Mr Alonso, who started his career in the European Space Agency. The company is formed of a network of small technology companies across seven European countries and has a combined turnover of over €32m (£26.8m), according to CTG.

Mr Alonso said airlines and satellite makers alike were looking for the “holy grail” of scanning antenna.

“We want to be first in the market for the combination of high performance and affordable cost. We aim to have initial testing and evaluation in two years’ time from now, with a final potential product for airborne specification in 2.5 years."

Companies launching “mega-constellations” are also in the market for them.

He said: “They are really looking forward to having these kinds of products. They will make systems much better in terms of communications capabilities. They will be able to reach, in certain conditions, all these airplanes and gateways and user terminals. So really, they are looking forward to our kind of solutions. Everybody is looking for it. It is like the holy grail.”

The antenna products being designed in Scotland will feature a flat panel, incorporating multi-beam, phased-array technology.

“We are going to make a centre of competence in Edinburgh for our RF (radio frequency) antenna. We hope to look much farther than beyond this project. We are coming with a long-term view and roadmap,” he said.

“We are planning to do manufacturing – all these antenna will require advanced manufacturing. We are also planning to have additional activities in parallel to this. We are thinking of potentially a maintenance centre for the antenna we are selling.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said Scottish Development International (SDI) first began talks with CTG at the 2019 UK Space Conference in Cardiff last year.

Mr Alonso said he was getting “quite good support from the Scottish Government”.

“They are quite ambitious in space and have a real roadmap to make Scotland very strong in space within the UK and Europe,’ he said. “They were receptive and helpful”

He added: “Also, you need people around who are expert and I also found that in Edinburgh – so far so good."

Fiona Hyslop, having recently taken on board the economy and fair work brief into her culture cabinet portfolio, announced the R&D award at Heriot Watt University.

She said: “The global space sector is estimated to be worth £400 billion by 2030 and I am determined that Scotland will capitalise on the potential economic opportunities associated with this. That is why the Scottish Government has identified space as a key priority.

“The sector in Scotland has seen strong growth over recent years, which is demonstrated through collaboration and investment such as Celestia Technologies, an international company that has decided to establish a permanent base in Scotland.”

"The Scottish Government said the space industry in Scotland has more than 130 organisations with 7,600 employees in the growing space technology sector."